The Region: Saved by our enemies

It’s not Western policy but Middle Eastern radicals’ extremism that, ironically, saves the day

By BARRY RUBIN
February 12, 2012 21:07
Abbas, Mashaal, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad

Abbas, Mashaal, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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President Barack Obama is campaigning on the claim that he is a great friend of Israel despite the fact that this is clearly not true. After all, the announcement of a coalition government between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, a genocidally oriented terrorist group that is openly anti- Semitic and rejects all of the agreements with Israel on which the PA is based prompts no US (or European) policy response.

In fact, it is only the extremism of the region’s radical regimes and movements, their refusal to accept the deals he offers them, that has prevented Obama from being a disaster for Israel. Meanwhile, great damage is done to US and Western interests.

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Nobody wants to say this, and no one in any Israeli government should do so, but they know Israel cannot depend on the Obama administration for real support.

Still, a strategy in which Israeli leaders say nice things about Obama, try to be as cooperative as possible, and are patient – while doing what needs to be done directly – has worked out precisely because the Obama administration’s policies were wrong.

For example, the US effort to engage with Iran failed due to Iranian behavior which forced an end to that policy. The same applies to the White House’s pro-Syrian policy. And the administration’s hamhanded effort to push forward the Israel-Palestinian peace process also became a mess that Obama had to abandon.

Eventually the same thing will happen with the Muslim Brotherhood when sufficient evidence of its radicalism and anti-Americanism accumulates that even the White House can no longer ignore it.

Consider this example of how the process works, doing damage but eventually being fixed.

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In 2010 the Palestinian Authority (PA) made it clear that it would go to the UN and demand unilateral independence. The Obama administration should have leapt into action and made it clear that the PA would pay in financial and strategic terms unless it refrained from taking an action that violated every agreement it ever signed and would permanently destroy any remaining shreds of the peace process. (As if its three-year- long unpunished refusal to negotiate with Israel wasn’t sufficient.)

Instead, the administration did nothing. Month after month the pressure built, tensions rose, the diplomatic pressures rose. Finally, at the last moment the rejection of the idea by the key European states stopped the UN recognition process and saved Obama from having to cast a veto. But even if the US government act was necessary in the autumn of 2011 there were major costs from its having failed to act earlier.

This is now supposed to be counted as a great achievement for Obama in supporting Israel.

There is still, however, a parallel issue that also began to be manifested in more than a year ago: the PA (Fatah)- Hamas alliance. Again, month after month the Obama administration did nothing as another peace-killing, commitment- breaking PA strategy unfolded.

Almost a year ago, we were assured that PA funding would be cut off if this continued. Yet the moves toward a coalition went on with no Western action. Now we have entered a new phase with an agreement for an interim unity government being made in Qatar. Hamas, of course, rejects Israel’s existence and both favors and continues to practice (if only through smaller groups it allows to do so in the Gaza Strip) terrorism.

What was the reaction of the Obama administration to this deal? The State Department called it an “internal matter for the Palestinians.” The fact is that it is US aid and political clout that keeps the PA an international factor just as covert Israeli protection largely saves it from being overthrown by Hamas.

The State Department statement continues: “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence. It must recognize the state of Israel and it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the road map.”

European governments took a similar position. But Hamas hasn’t done this and won’t do it, despite the nonsense dredged up by various writers about Hamas or its leaders being or becoming moderate.

Indeed, even the current PA government doesn’t accept “previous agreements and obligations” because it has sought unilateral independence without negotiations, repeatedly rejected talks, continued to spread official incitement to violence against Israelis, and made a government coalition with Hamas. Indeed, Fatah’s brand-new official Facebook page shows all of Israel as Palestine and glorifies terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Israel must work with the PA on avoiding war and minimizing conflict. But a peace agreement and a resolution of the conflict? Forget it. That was true in 2000 and a dozen years later it should be–though for many, isn’t – incredibly obvious.

All of this, then, will be ignored. Will this stance lead to disaster? Probably not. Ironically, we are repeatedly saved by the “honesty” of our enemies, or more accurately their passion to articulate their ideology; the extremism of their views; their over-confidence; their strategic shortsightedness; their internal quarrels; and their need to tell their own people precisely what they think in order to mobilize support.

In this case, the truth is that Hamas and Fatah are fundamentally incompatible if only because each wants total power for itself. The agreement will probably fall apart and no new elections will be held. And once again we will be told that the policy succeeded. And in a sense it will be true, albeit only if one can depend on one’s enemies to mess up the opportunities they have been given.

But at what cost?

Why does the PA want a deal with Hamas so badly? The PA (and its Fatah rulers) prefers unity with the Islamists to peace with Israel and needs a single government to continue pursuing unilateral independence. In addition, however, it recognizes that the Islamists are the rising force in the region. If the US government is appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood, the PA needs to be on the side of its own local Brotherhood branch.

Of course, all this means that peace is further away; that the Islamists and radical forces become more powerful; anti-Americanism, ironically funded by the Americans, soars; tens of million of people – often due to their own choice – are ruled by even worse tyrannies; US and Western interests in the Middle East are weakened; while violence and instability are more likely.

Obama’s pyrrhic “victories” are welcomed by all the pyromaniacs in the Middle East. Here’s how one of the greatest books ever written about politics and international affairs explains the situation: “On every side the wicked roam when vileness is exalted.” (Psalm 12).

The writer is director of global research in the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He is a featured columnist at PJM and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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